Chief Keef is the kind of rapper whose reputation precedes him. The day of his album listening session, Friday, July 10, he’s running well over an hour late. He’s trying his best to get through Los Angeles, Calif.’s notorious gridlock and into Beverly Hills, as the press waits inside Hologram Studios.
In the meantime, a select group of journalists get to hear a handful of tracks from his upcoming Bang 3 album, out Aug. 18. The playlist includes the lead single “Missing You,” “Go Harder,” “Yes” “All I Came For” and “Superheroes,” featuring A$AP Rocky. Based on a first listen, Sosa’s going in a different sonic direction, one that’s somewhat more upbeat and smothered in Auto-Tune; lyrically, it’s less about guns and gangs.
The 19-year-old Chicago native, born Keith Cozart, has so far ridden the fame roller-coaster to rockier results than he probably bargained for. Last year, Interscope Records dropped him (which he admits to bringing on himself, by purposely doing “stuff” to get booted — like not showing up to performances); before that he was in rehab; then there’s the beef with other rap crews, social media spaz fests, and around two solid years of lawsuits.
Nowadays, his life is less chaotic. With his first studio release since his Filthy Rich debut, he’s “going another way” musically, while showcasing his production skills, and keeping it light on guest features.
The teen signed a two-album deal with FilmOn Networks, owned by Alki David — the billionaire behind George Zimmerman’s nixed celebrity boxing match and Hologram USA, a technology company that improves upon the satellite performance structure, allowing artists to digitally transport themselves to stages worldwide.
“Keef came along and he is one of those rare independent artists who have a big following. Very popular, very cutting edge,” says David.
“He went to jail, waived a gun at a cop… he’s like a crazy person,” jokes the businessman, before getting more serious about why he chose to collaborate with Keef. “He’s profoundly talented. We went to the studio and he recorded ‘Missing You;’ it was completely out of his traditional scope of sound. He just laid into it. He did it effortlessly. When you see someone really talented perform their art, and you see them do it effortlessly, it’s an honor.”
Once he finally makes it through the door, Keef apologizes for his tardiness, explaining that he was in the studio until 9 AM that morning and overslept. He wants everyone to know that he’s done running amok, and that permanently relocating to L.A. has “changed” his life. “I got away from all the unnecessary trouble,” he says to the room. “It’s better out here [in L.A.] than in Chicago, because I got in so much trouble. I like living out here. I think it improved me. It changed me, and [inspired] me to go somewhere bigger.”
Around this time three years ago, “I Don’t Like” turned him into an overnight celebrity (by rap standards). A co-sign from Kanye West helped move things along, and before we knew it, rap’s newest “it-guy” was a rowdy teenager, who flaunted his obsession with firearms — even at the expense of his own freedom. An interview with Pitchfork, which took place at a New York gun range, placed him behind bars, and opened the door to a string of bad decisions that dominated headlines and overshadowed his music.
But the 2014 murder of his cousin Mario “Big Glo” Hess provided the most substantial moment of clarity. “When that happened that was the biggest lesson,” Keef tells Billboard. “It told me ‘You gotta grow up.'”
Hess, also a rapper, inspired Keef to make a change, he says. “I know he would want me to be a better person. To do better. When [his murder] happened, I just… it’s like [his sprit] jumped in me. How he rocked, he used to just go crazy, saying all types of stuff. He just, he brought me back.”
One day after the listening session, Keef’s Glo Gang affiliate, 22-year-old Marvin Carr, who rapped under the name Capo, was shot to death in Chicago. A toddler was killed as the suspects attempted to flee the scene, police revealed. In wake of the Windy City’s latest senseless murder, Keef has announced a benefit concert for the family of the 13-month-old killed in the aftermath of Capo’s fatal shooting. He will appear at the concert via hologram from Beverly Hills, Calif.